"I'm so sorry I'm late, Vic," said Mabel Jones. She was flushed and a little sweaty as she tied her apron on, having just rushed over five blocks.
"Don't worry about it, Bel. I'm happy to do it," I said. I began to untie my own apron, the same brown one that had the name of the coffee shop "The Foxhole" printed on it in white. "Is Jenni going to be okay?" I asked.
"Yes, she's better now. I'll have to take her back to the doctor tomorrow for another checkup, but at least her wheezing had stopped. Thanks so much for taking over my shift." Mabel gave me a tight hug. "I've had too many absences this month, I'd probably have gotten fired if you hadn't covered for me."
I could see the faintest sign of tears in my friend's eyes. Clearly her daughter Jenni's latest asthma attack had been pretty bad, and had left her shaken. "Are you sure you're going to be okay? Because I'm happy to work your whole shift if you need to be home."
"No, no, I'll be fine. You better get going, you have that job interview this afternoon. Oh dear, can you still make it?"
"I think so." I looked up at the wall clock behind us. Three thirty. It was going to be really close. I had half an hour to my interview, which meant I had no time to go home and get dressed.
Five minutes later, in the locker room, I was trying to smooth the wrinkles on my grey skirt. My black top was of a soft lightweight wool that didn't need pressing, however, it was old and a little shabby. Not the ideal attire to a job interview, but it would have to do. My long wavy auburn hair hadn't been properly washed since yesterday, and it smelled like turnovers, so I had hurriedly tied it up in a bun. Thankfully, I still had a chance to make the interview. I think. When Mabel called me at noon to ask if I would take over her shift for a couple of hours, I didn't even hesitate. I needed to get the job I was interviewing for, but Mabel needed the café job even more. She had a sickly six-year-old daughter at home whom she was raising by herself: there was no one else to take her to to the hospital whenever she had one of her asthma attacks.
When I got to Third Street, I scanned the high rise buildings above me. Not being familiar with L.A.'s financial district, I honestly would have looked up the map online if I had the time. I checked my watch for the third time in the past minute: three fifty-five. I looked up again and after a moment, finally spotted the address.
The Mattheson Building loomed tall and stately, all gleaming glass and steel in the L.A. sunshine. Suddenly I was conscious of my old clothes the moment I walked into the elegant and richly appointed lobby. It was like stepping into a box of expensive French chocolates, except the place may have smelled even better. I slowed my pace, every step an apology to the pale cream marble floor with gold flecks which my cheap flat shoes had no business touching.
As I pressed the elevator button for the 55th floor, it suddenly dawned on me that it had to be a mistake, this job interview. People who had offices on the 55th floor didn't hire tutors who advertised on community newspapers and questionable online ad websites, which was the only places I could afford to post ads for my services as a tutor. I did try an agency, but they wouldn't take me for my lack of experience. I had just gotten out of graduate school, and trying to make ends meet with freelance magazine writing jobs and my stint at the coffee shop.
The 55th was even more luxurious than the lobby. A chandelier graced the high ceilings, and sofas in rich leather rested on thick-piled carpeting around the round receptionist desk where a man and a woman sat, both on the telephone, as I walked towards them. Whoever it was I was interviewing with, they could definitely afford my rates.
The man saw me approach. I gave him a smile, trying not to look as nervous as I felt. While he nodded in return, he continued his phone conversation.
I waited, but a minute passed before the man finally hung up.
"Hi. I'm Victoria Slade," I said. "I have an interview for the tutor position at four." I grimaced in embarrassment. "I'm so sorry I'm late."
The man smiled pleasantly. "Unfortunately, Ms. Slade, it's ten minutes past four," he said. "Mr. Chase is no longer available to see you."
My heart sank. "I can wait. Or perhaps we could reschedule? I'm willing to come back anytime that's convenient." Who did he say it was? "Anytime it's convenient for Mr. Chase," I added.
He smiled at me sympathetically. "I'll see what I can do. However, Mr. Chase is extremely busy, and I highly doubt he would be willing to schedule another appointment."
I spotted a tall man in a suit emerging from a door on my left. He was followed by a lanky, younger man carrying a briefcase and some folders. "Is that him?" I said, pointing.
"Mr. Chase!" I called out, walking toward the man as fast as I could.
"Ms. Slade, please—" the receptionist started to say, but I ignored him. I needed this job, and I had pretty much nothing to lose at this point.
When Chase met my gaze, I froze in my steps.
I had fully expected him to be some middle-aged man, since the job I had applied for was as a tutor for a fifth grader. So it was a bit of a shock to find a man who couldn't possibly be older than thirty-five or thirty-six.
Nothing prepared me for the intensity of his blue eyes or the perfection of the rest of his face. His light gray suit looked like it had been molded on to his trim figure by one of the renaissance sculptors. Michelangelo, maybe. My knees turned to jelly under me, but something about him kept me moving inexorably forward. It was almost like gravity.
"Yes?" he said.
"I, uh," I stammered.
He raised an eyebrow, but didn't break a stride.
"Hi, I'm Victoria Slade," I said, when I finally found my voice. "Your four o'clock? I know I'm late but—"
"Punctuality doesn't seem to be a priority for you, Ms. Slade." He brushed past me.
"I apologize," I said, walking beside him. It was hard to keep up with him and his long legs, but I did the best I could. "I thought perhaps we could reschedule. I'll come back anytime—"
"Your resume says you work at a coffee shop," he said, interrupting me again. "Is that the best you could do with your masters degree?"
"No. I mean, I've stated in my resume that I also write for magazines."
As we walked past the reception desk, the man behind it gaped at me silently.
"You do freelance writing," Mr. Chase said. "And you don't make enough that you have to wait tables at a coffee shop, and now do tutoring work?"
"I have to make ends meet, Mr. Chase. Writers don't exactly get paid as much as hedge fund managers."
"No, but surely a woman of your intelligence and credentials should be able to manage her career and finances better."
"I don't understand. What does that have to do with the tutor position?"
It occured to me that were walking toward an elevator. It had wider doors than the others, and was positioned farther away. A personal lift, perhaps? His assistant rushed ahead of them and tapped a card on a panel on the side, and the doors opened silently.
"I'm looking for someone to entrust my child's educational care. I cannot give it to someone who can't seem to take care of their own financial well-being. Or," he said, looking at me pointedly, "can't seem to show up for a job interview on time."
I opened my mouth to argue, and realized I had nothing to say to that. I was late, after all.
He got inside the elevator with his assistant, leaving me standing outside.
I wasn't sure what possessed me, but before I could think twice, I had dashed inside the elevator just before the doors closed.
"Ms. Slade, what are you doing?"
I don't know. I wasn't supposed to be here, but his beautiful blue eyes held me in place.
"I, uh ..." I stammered. Great going, Slade. Really articulate. I cleared my throat. "Mr. Chase, I completely understand how you feel."
"Do you?" He nodded to his assistant. "Let's go, Frank."
His assistant pressed a button for one of the basement floors. The elevator doors closed and we began our descent.
"I'm not an economics or finance major," I continued, seeing as he made no move to kick me out of the lift. "I'm pretty good with numbers but horrible with money. As a matter of fact, I only like money as much as it can pay for my groceries or my car insurance. But I don't think your child needs a financial advisor right now. What he needs is someone who believes in the importance of learning, someone well-rounded who can make him see how different areas of knowledge are connected. Help him see how education is relevant to real life."
Chase didn't look at me as I spoke. He kept his eyes on the doors of the elevator, his face expressionless. Was he bored? Was he even listening to me?
"I think you want this for him," I added. "This is why you asked me to come for this interview despite the fact that I've had no experience. The reason you considered hiring me was because of my educational background in English and Literature, and the fact that I write for science magazines."
I studied his face, waiting for a response. Nothing.
"You didn't hire an experienced tutor because he probably already goes to school run by highly paid teaching professionals," I said. "But you want him to acquire an imagination, which is why you want to hire me."
"Anything more, Ms. Slade?" he said, still not looking at me.
"Uhm, no. That's it."
"I see. Frank, we'll be dropping Ms. Slade off at the first floor."
I watched Frank push the first floor button, and my heart sank.
"My apologies, Ms. Slade, if you were under the wrong impression about this job," Chase said. "I'm looking for someone to take responsibility for my son's education outside of school. His school demands much from him, and I want to make sure he is able to keep up with these demands. I don't believe you and he will make a good fit. Thank you for your time."
"Oh. I see." I had hoped he would at least tell me he would think about it and get back to me, but this was clearly a man who didn't like to waste time. Disappointment felt like a physical lump in my throat, but I straightened my back, looked him in the eye and forced myself to smile.
"I understand. Thank you for your time, Mr. Chase."
When the elevator opened at the first floor, I walked out. But a sudden thought made me stop and turn. "You seem to care for your son very much," I said. "I hope you find what you're looking for."
I turned and walked away just as the elevator doors began to close.
Well, that was that. I did my best, at least. I was still surprised at how I had jumped into that elevator without a thought in my head. They could have thrown me out the building for that.
What were you thinking, Slade?
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